Research Handbook on Child Soldiers
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Research Handbook on Child Soldiers

Edited by Mark A. Drumbl and Jastine C. Barrett

Child soldiers remain poorly understood and inadequately protected, despite significant media attention and many policy initiatives. This Research Handbook aims to redress this troubling gap. It offers a reflective, fresh and nuanced review of the complex issue of child soldiering. The Handbook brings together scholars from six continents, diverse experiences, and a broad range of disciplines. Along the way, it unpacks the life-cycle of youth and militarization: from recruitment to demobilization to return to civilian life. The overarching aim of the Handbook is to render the invisible visible – the contributions map the unmapped and chart new directions. Challenging prevailing assumptions and conceptions, the Research Handbook on Child Soldiers focuses on adversity but also capacity: emphasising the resilience, humanity, and potentiality of children affected (rather than ‘afflicted’) by armed conflict.
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Chapter 19: Navigating the mystical: child soldiers and reintegration rituals in northern Uganda

Jastine C. Barrett


The argument has been advanced by scholars and activists alike that indigenous forms of justice and reconciliation practices should play some role in post-conflict societies. In particular, it has been suggested that indigenous mechanisms may assist with the reintegration of former child soldiers. Abducted child soldiers, sometimes forced to commit atrocities, can be perceived simultaneously as victims and perpetrators. Arguably, indigenous mechanisms may be better placed than formal state-organized or internationally-sponsored mechanisms to address such complex identities. Drawing on existing literature and qualitative interviews, this chapter examines the use of indigenous rituals or ceremonies in the reintegration of child soldiers in northern Uganda. It provides a picture of the main reintegration rituals utilized in the Acholi sub-region, highlighting their mystical or spiritual elements and linking these rituals to the importance of the spirit world in Acholi cosmology. The chapter also explores the approach of local and international actors to the return of child soldiers from captivity in the Lord’s Resistance Army, focusing on how these actors perceive local approaches to reintegration. It ends by examining UNICEF’s perspective on indigenous mechanisms, which, as the lead international agency for children, provided support to many of the actors operating in northern Uganda. The aim is to elucidate whether indigenous mechanisms were seen by organizations as compatible with their institutional ethos, be that ethos founded on religious principles and/or child rights.

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